By Thomas Knapp
“They thought all along that they could call me a libertarian and hang that label around my neck like an albatross,” Rand Paul said in 2010 during his Republican primary campaign for US Senate, “but I’m not a libertarian.”
Paul prevailed, beating GOP establishment favorite Trey Grayson in the Republican primary and Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway in the general election. Now he’s preparing a 2016 presidential campaign and everyone, Paul included, seems to want to forget that disclaimer.
But it was true then and it’s true now. Rand Paul is no libertarian.
What is he? Among other things, the poster child for adopting a strict “no backsies” rule in American presidential politics.
Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Justin Raimondo of Antiwar.com puts his finger on the problem with Paul: “For the life of me, I can’t figure out what he really believes — where he really stands, especially when it comes to foreign policy.”
Paul wants to avoid war with Iran. No, wait, he’s for wrecking any chance of avoiding war with Iran. No, wait, he just wants to “negotiate from a position of strength” with Iran — by signing a letter telling the Iranians that the US can’t be trusted to stick to its agreements.
Paul supports “respectful” relations with Russia, because unlike other politicians he understands that the Cold War is over. No, wait, maybe it isn’t over after all. We need to “isolate” Russia and “punish” Vladimir Putin.
Paul supports eliminating foreign aid, including aid to Israel (because strings attached to that aid tie Benjamin Netanyahu’s hands). No, wait, let’s just freeze foreign aid at current levels. No, wait, let’s increase foreign aid to Israel.
Paul opposes US airstrikes on Islamic State forces. No, wait, he supports airstrikes on Islamic State forces.
Paul opposes abortion, except when he doesn’t. Paul opposes same-sex marriage, except maybe not. Paul opposes marijuana legalization, except when he thinks it might be OK.
Libertarians argue constantly over what it means to be a libertarian. I bet I’ve heard a hundred definitions. All of those definitions describe consistent defenders of liberty. None of them describes someone who always says whatever he thinks the crowd he’s talking to wants to hear.
Some of Paul’s defenders claim he’s a “stealth libertarian,” pretending to be a conservative — but that once he’s in White House, he’ll reveal his true principles. They’re selling a pig in a poke. Buyer beware!
What is Rand Paul? A politician. A chameleon. A pander bear. The 2016 edition of Mitt Romney (you may remember how that turned out for Republicans).
Rand Paul is many things, but one thing he’s consistently not is a libertarian. Please stop calling him that.
Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.